With a controversial line-up made up of Brandy Clark, Lee Ann Womack, Florida Georgia Line and Luke Bryan, ticket sales seemed to suffer at this year’s C2C music festival, with empty seats being prevalent throughout the two days. What I thought was worse, however, was the embarrassingly empty stands for the amazing openers on both days. In fact, on the Saturday, the stands only seemed remotely full when Florida Georgia line and Luke Bryan came on stage. If the UK wants to be taken seriously by the CMA and by artists, then deliberately missing two of country music’s greatest voices and songstresses is not the way to go about it.
However, moving onto the actual music, the day started off with the amazing and moving Brandy Clark, opening with her incredibly witty song ‘Stripes’. Having seen Brandy in an acoustic set the night before at the ‘CMA Songwriters Showcase’, I was intrigued as to what she would offer with the backing of her band. What I got was a really rich and powerful demonstration of why she is a songwriter and singer at the very top of her game, particularly on ‘What’ll Keep Me Out Of Heaven’, a song that really gives me all of the feels, and ‘Hold My Hand’, which was simply incredible with the added drum backing. Also demonstrating her rich song writing portfolio, she rattled through ‘Mama’s Broken Heart’, recorded by Miranda Lambert, and a stunning acoustic version of The Band Perry’s ‘Better Dig Two’, which I thought was infinitely better than their very rocky take on the love song. Finishing on arguably her most dramatic-sounding track, ‘Hungover’ was a really special moment, with the band really adding an extra punch to what is already a very powerful song. Having already criticised the audience in this article, I will qualify my words with this; the crowd that was present for her amazing set were very appreciative, and gave her the love she undoubtedly deserves.
Lee Ann Womack is my favorite person in country music, so forgive me if this review is a little biased. Coming on stage with ‘All The Saints’ she immediately had most of the half-full O2 captivated by her perfect vocals and on-stage energy. Following up with a slower classic, ’Twenty Years And Two Husbands Ago’ was a truly magical experience, her voice ringing around the arena, transcending words powerful enough to describe it. The real highlights of the set were the songs she performed from ‘The Way I’m Livin’’, including the upbeat, bluegrassy title track, which provided a change of pace, waking some members of the audience from their ignorance of the beautiful art being performed for them, and her latest single ‘Send It On Down’, which is a moving song on record, but absolutely blew me away here. I could tell that the song really means something to Lee Ann, and she went as far as to say it was “one of my favorite tracks I’ve recorded”. Towards the end of her set, she performed a chilling cover of the classic folk song ‘Wayfaring Stranger’ which really showed off her outstanding vocals. You have got to have something really special to hold such a big arena under your spell using only your voice, but she absolutely did it. Obviously she couldn’t get away without performing her biggest hit ‘I Hope You Dance’, and perform it she did. Whilst this was beautiful, and vocally excellent, for me it just couldn’t compete with the rest of her set which was already overflowing with hard-hitting songs delivered by a voice which I was already in love with from the first time I ever heard it. Whilst I don’t hold out too much hope of her coming back to Europe for a tour, I will make it my life’s mission to make sure I catch another of her shows, because she is simply that good.
Now what can I say about Florida Georgia Line, since I have used all of my gushing hyperbole in describing Brandy Clark and Lee Ann Womack. I can start by saying that they absolutely killed it on Saturday night. Opening with ‘Every Night’ from their new album ‘Anything Goes’, they had the crowd standing and cheering from the first to the last note of their set. Moving from the beautiful vocals of Lee Ann Womack to Florida Georgia Line was an interesting move from the C2C organisers, but I think everyone can say that FGL isn’t about the vocals, it’s about the brilliant atmosphere that they conjure, keeping the whole O2 arena singing and dancing for their 75 minute set. Having said this, their vocals were actually pretty sharp, sounding the same as on their albums. A particular highlight was their rendition of ‘Dirt’, which toned down the production and energy a bit, followed by a beautiful a Capella version, showing that they are actually decent musicians and singers. Rattling off hit-after-hit, particular highlights were ‘Get Your Shine On’, ‘Round Here’ and ‘Bump In The Night’, which all depended less on creating a party, but were actually very good musically. However, I think it goes without saying for anyone there, that ending on ‘Cruise’ was the highlight, with the crowd going absolutely crazy for the most downloaded country song of all time. Most of all however, they seem like really decent guys whenever they are interviewed, and came across exactly the same way on stage. I was very impressed by FGL, and although a lot of the stick they receive is very humorous, I am not one of the people that think they deserve it.
Finishing up the Saturday night was CMA Entertainer Of The Year, Luke Bryan. My problem with Luke Bryan isn’t an ‘anti-bro’ argument, it is simply an argument that he sings party songs in the style of a crooner, and so if I am going on a night out, I’m going to blast out FGL to get excited, rather than Luke Bryan. However, having said this, his songs are so catchy, and he puts on a great show. Opening with ‘That’s My Kind Of Night’ was a really good move, since it immediately got the audience involved in one of his biggest, and most recent hits. I’m not a huge fan of Luke Bryan on record, but he is a fantastic live act, never better than by his older hit ‘All My Friends Say’, which was slightly more ‘country’ than a lot of his more recent offerings. His set also showed off his musical prowess, with him playing the guitar on more than a few songs, and also demonstrating his piano playing on some of his slower songs, such as ‘Shut It Down’. However, whilst he demonstrated his softer side on such songs, the standout moment was his moving, and vocally impressive, version of ‘Drink A Beer’. This was a bit of a spine-tingler and gave his set some added emotional depth, which was a beautiful, and stark, contrast to the majority of his very up-beat set. ‘Drink A Beer’ was awesome, but his two biggest hits from ‘Tailgates & Tanlines’ were better. ‘Drunk On You’ and ‘Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye’ were both incredibly well performed, with Luke cranking up the band again, and demonstrating why he is entertainer of the year. I think that one of those songs would have been a much better closing number than ‘Country Girl’. It is an undisputed crowd-pleaser, but in my view I don’t think it is a good-enough song to do such a great set justice as a closer. I think it would have served better as an opener to get the crowd hyped, and ending on one of his bigger songs from ‘Tailgates & Tanlines’ or ‘Crash My Party’. Having said this, it was very entertaining, and the crowd showed their appreciation in a big way, and I would be very surprised if anyone present harboured any complaints about Luke headlining C2C in the way that they did when he was announced.
All photo credits go to Hels Bels Photography.